Cat hairballs: how they form and how to get rid of them

Hairballs are a constant problem for cats and owners: find out more about this cat discomfort and how to solve it in a few steps.

Have you noticed your cat coughing and trying desperately to push back something that seems to have stuck in its throat? It is likely that he has ingested some hairs of his own fur and that these, accumulating in the stomach, have formed small and annoying balls. In fact, the problem of hairballs is quite frequent and can create many problems for the feline’s breathing. This is why it is important to know more about this phenomenon and to understand how we can be useful to our poor cat.

Cat hairballs: how they form

In autumn and spring, or in the moulting period, cat owners will have to face a common and recurring problem: that of hairballs. The cause of cat hairballs is the cat itself. In fact, it is precisely his way of taking care of his fur that makes these balls create in his stomach. The cat often licks its fur during its daily cleaning, the tongue formed by small hooks, in the shape of a hook, which act on the furry blanket like a brush: this operation is called ‘ grooming‘. These hooks of the tongue in fact tear the hair and hold it on the tongue which, with swallowing, sends them directly to the stomach, to the intestine. But if the cat fails to excrete them with feces in the digestive process they will get trapped in his stomach.

Certainly there are some cats much more at risk than others, such as long-haired ones. Whoever adopts one will have to expect it! But it is not certain that short-haired cats are exempt from this problem: in fact, during the annual change of the hair, the felines change the hair and eat the ‘old’ one. It will not be difficult to recognize a cat who has ingested hair that has formed boluses, as he will do everything to vomit them up. The most serious problem is not so much the retching, but the gastritis that can form due to the continuous attempts of the feline. Those who cannot get them out of the mouth may also do so through digestion and feces: for this it is good to check his needs. Even in the case of faeces, however, other rather serious health problems could arise, such as chronic constipation and intestinal blockage. If he fails to expel them, he will not even be able to assimilate with consequent problems of anorexia, loss of appetite. Now let’s see how we can detect the presence of hairballs in cats.

Cat hairballs: symptoms

A coughing cat might just have a cold. But the hairball cough is different since it is an effort that will also involve his entire abdomen: it contracts during the stroke. In addition, a series of suffering verses will accompany the entire action: this is because in an attempt to expel them, the cat breathes badly and tries to stretch the neck as much as possible to push them back. Once the operation is complete, the cat should have thrown back these balls of greyish matter, sometimes linked to undigested food residues such as kibble. The shape of these skeins changes according to the amount of hair that form them: they may not always be circular, but also long and tapered.

Another symptom to note is the frequency of these vomiting episodes, which naturally make the cat stressed and in need of rest. It will be common for the cat to sleep often and maybe he could wriggle with pain in his stomach, since the boluses are left in his stomach and he is unable in any way to expel them. Other phenomena are therefore constipation, or as if a sort of ‘plug’ prevented the intestine from completing the digestive process with the feces. Another detail not to be underestimated is the appearance of the feces. Dust in the house, which the cat will surely find himself licking perhaps even from objects and accessories that he finds around, makes the fur ball even more compact. In this case, the stools will be very hard and dry, also creating problems in the anus upon expulsion.

Finally, the cat could enter a perennial state of dejection and apathy, of fatigue due to the effort of frequent retching and the stress of often being able to expel only liquids (corrosive gastric juices) and food residues.

Cat hairballs: 6 solutions to the problem

What can we as owners do to help our suffering cat? Certainly we can adopt some remedy that facilitates the expulsion of the boluses, which increases its psycho-physical well-being and which helps the cat not to assimilate other particles that strengthen the boluses within its body.

Vitamins and fibers

A cat should regularly get a certain amount of vitamins in its diet. We could never replace the valuable advice of the expert, so it is best to consult the opinion of your trusted veterinarian for the type and dosage of vitamins and any supplements. What we can do, even at home, is to guarantee the feline a diet based on vitamin foods and with Omega3 and Omega6 fatty acids : in fact, they help the hair to grow healthy and hard, and consequently stronger and more resistant to ‘passage’. of the cat’s tongue. In fact, one solution is not to prevent the cat from licking itself, it is part of its routine activities and we know how much the feline is attached to its habits.

Another solution is to absolutely give him some fibers because in this way his intestine is made to work better. Therefore, the operation of expelling any hairballs should also be facilitated. The cat will be less stressed at the time of defecation and also its intestines will be able to function regularly and without any kind of hitch. To function better the intestine also needs physical activity, as a lazy and sedentary cat is also prone to licking itself more than one that is always dynamic and on the move. It is also up to us to create diversions for him, to provide him with interesting and fun games to be able to distract him and keep him busy.

Using the brush

If we ourselves slide the brush on its furry blanket, the amount of hair that the cat will be able to ingest will certainly be less. It will be necessary to brush it regularly and then eliminate the dead, weak and about to detach hair. Furthermore, the use of the brush is ‘proportionate’ according to the quantity and type of hair: if it is a long and thick coat it will be necessary to do it at least once a day. The moment of the brush is also a moment of tenderness and cuddling, which our cat will surely appreciate. It is a moment of the owner with the cat: certainly the feline will be happy with this time dedicated to him. In addition, there are also special combs and hair removal gloves on the market.


Also on prescription and medical advice, you could proceed with the administration of drugs to the cat to make him expel hairballs. These are often also pastes that aid digestion in the feline and facilitate the work of his intestine. We ask the veterinarian for advice, who will certainly assess the overall health of the feline, its age and the problem before recommending such a type of drug. Generally these are pastes, such as toothpastes, of different brands and tastes: we can do a test to understand which one our cat likes best. Veterinarians usually recommend giving them once or twice a week, unless the cat is stressed by the problem of boluses and will need this paste to digest at least once a day for several days in a row.

A clean house

How can a sanitized and clean home solve (at least in part) the problem of cat hairballs? Simply because eliminating the dust will prevent the cat from ingesting it. In fact, in addition to potential allergies, it also has a reinforcing action against boluses. These skeins will blend better thanks to the particles and dust particles. So if the environment in which the cat lives is cleaned and dusted daily, we will at least eliminate the possibility that the boluses can form more quickly and become trapped in his stomach.


This magical catnip that cats are so fond of has a digestive action: in fact, many cats eat it after a meal. Its powerful influence on the intestine, like that of valerian, will therefore help it to expel the material that accumulates within it, including boluses. The benefits of catnip are innumerable, so we recommend always having a jar at home also for the whitening and cleaning action on the cat’s teeth. But be careful not to overdo it: if we see that it doesn’t ‘work’ let’s stop him from eating more: he could get gastritis.


By spreading a little vaseline, or alternatively some butter or malt paste, on the cat’s paw we will help him to expel the boluses. In fact, by ingesting the hair but also this layer of soft petroleum jelly, it will prevent the boluses from hardening or at least being more easily expelled from your intestine. The problem of constipation should also be drastically reduced.

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